Monday, October 31, 2005

Adventures in Kentucky

This weekend, I went to Kentucky to see my Grandma and play the violin for her. I arrived in Lexington safely on Saturday, and made it back home safely and without incident last night.

On my way there on Saturday morning, I was about to pass a pickup truck pulling a trailer, when the left wheel of the trailer popped off and bounced across the road right in front of me. The axle fell to the pavement and started dragging along, cutting a groove in the road and flinging chunks of asphalt on me and on the other cars behind them. And the driver of the truck didn't seem to notice! So I accelerated to along side of them, and started honking and pointing like a madwoman. At first he must have thought I had road rage or something, because he accelerated to get away from me! But I sped up even more and honked and gestured and shouted that his wheel was missing, and I basically escorted him to the side of the road. I stopped too, and when I saw that he was getting out and would see the missing wheel, I drove on. I was pretty uptight for the rest of the drive. It was a really emotionally-intense experience!

I arrived in Lexington in time for a late lunch with Dad and Bonus Mom Marvis. Then we went to get some documents for our new house notarized (Dad's lending us some money for the down-payment, because our house in Illinois isn't going to sell in time), and to the Liquor Barn, where I ran into my former stand-partner in the Lexington Community Orchestra, Bernie. He was happy to see me and I enjoyed talking to him.

That afternoon we also talked to Laura on the phone, went for a walk in the arboretum, and then to the Kentucky Theater to see a movie, "Everything Is Illuminated," about a Jewish man (played by Elijah Wood) who traveled to the Ukraine to find a woman who he knew there before he left for America and the Nazis invaded the Ukraine. It was a good movie and it was particularly fun for me because there was a lot of Russian spoken in the movie and I hadn't heard Russian in quite a while. After the movie we went out to eat at Hunan in Southland, then came home and visited a lot before going to bed.

In the morning, Dad made his internationally-renowned muffins for breakfast, and then he left for Cincinnati, where he went with some Wisconsin-connected colleagues to watch the Green Bay Packers take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Marvis and I visited for a while, and then we went to visit Grandma.

Grandma was overjoyed to hear me play. She looked and sounded much better than she did the last time I saw her. She's not on 24-hour care anymore, so when we came she was all alone. She just asked me to play whatever songs I liked or came to my mind. After I finished playing, we coaxed her into eating her lunch, along with some angel food cake and bananas that Marvis had cleverly thought to bring along. It seems like she can't remember enough to initiate eating, but once she gets started, she can really pack it in.

We went back to the house and had a late lunch, and then Rachel called! So I got to talk to both my sisters this weekend. Towards the end of that phone call, bonus sister Vaughan stopped by, so I got to see her too, if only for a brief time, because it was time for me to go.

I limited my violin-playing to thirty minutes, but it still did a number on my arm. I iced my arm down after we got back to the house, but then as I went to use the restroom, I hit my bare elbow on the door frame. Stupid me! So I did my best to drive home one-handed.

I took a break from driving and called my mom to give her my assessment of Grandma. We had a very long and very nice talk. Overall it was a very good weekend.

Friday, October 28, 2005

On Handwriting

I have gotten pretty good at writing with the right hand. Assuming that my elbow is supported, I can write legibly. It doesn't look the same as my left-handwriting, but I'm improving. Right now it seems season-appropriate: My handwriting would make a good Halloween font because it's jerky in just the right ways.

I've been practicing my signature in preparation for the upcoming closing on our new house, at which time I will have to sign dozens of forms. It's harder than you might think. The way in which I make my leading "R" is difficult to imitate. My right hand wants to make it a lot wider than my left hand does it. I find this interesting because I remember reading a book on handwriting analysis once (not that I believe in it, but it was out of curiosity). The author posited that handwriting analysis was a science because if you lost your arms and had to relearn how to write with your toes, whose handwriting would you strive to emulate other than your own? That is a good point, but I find that my right-handwriting differs from my left-handwriting in a number of ways. Besides that pesky "R," there's also a general reduction in ornamentation. I have a hard enough time scrawling with the right, why add to my troubles by writing an extra loop here or making the tails of my g's or y's dip so far below the line? My right-handwriting is perhaps inspired by my left-handwriting, but it has a style of its own.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


This morning I left my apartment and got to my car only to discover that it was covered in frost! Naturally my first instinct was to use my badge as an ice scraper, but remembering my rigorous training, I instead used an actual scraper given to me by the lab's Safety directorate. In the car I had another, Illinois-grade scraper complete with a brush, but I thought the lab-endorsed scraper was more appropriate for weekday use.

The wimpy layer of frost came off quickly. I probably didn't even need to scrape, but it was too much fun to pass up.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Verdict Is...

I have irritated the heck out my ulnar nerve, just as I suspected.

The doctor was a young man, probably younger than I am, but he seemed knowledgeable. He told me that if I had a really serious problem, I would have yelped in pain when he did certain magical things, instead of just feeling uncomfortable like I did. He said the problem is that I am putting pressure on that nerve when I bend my elbow. Apparently the problem is exacerbated by the fact that I am extremely flexible and my elbows are double-jointed. He was impressed how far on my back I can reach with my arms.

He told me that his prescription was to give it a rest. Since it's nerve damage, there's no physical therapy or excercise for rehabilitation. I just need to use it as little as possible. I told him that my work required me to write and all that other stuff, so resting was not much of an option. He gave me a prescription for a special elbow cradle pad, which needs to be filled at a medical supply place of some sort. I'm still not sure where to go for that. But I will figure it out soon, because if he thinks that this thing will help me, I'm all over that.

This morning I went to the dentist for the first time in I can't remember how long. I am pleased to report that my teeth are clean and pearly now, still cavity-free, and that I have no wisdom teeth whatsoever. I was concerned that I might have them, because Rachel and I were both told that we had no wisdom teeth, and then it turned out that Rachel had one. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have no wisdom teeth at all! Perhaps it is unwise of me to brag about this fact.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Weekend Visitors

This weekend, we were converged upon from the north and the east by Dad and Marvis, and Laura and Anne, respectively. A fun weekend was had by all. Dad and Marvis arrived early Friday evening, and we all went out to dinner at a restaurant which had delicious food but which stiffed us on the vegetables. Our waitress said our meals didn't come with veggies, the writing on the menu to the contrary. Someone needs to get that straightened out. Anyhow, Laura and Anne arrived late that evening, so we didn't get to see them until Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning, we went on the Secret City Excursion Train, a ninety-minute train ride in the Oak Ridge reservation area. I had decided that I wanted to go on this train in celebration of my birthday, so I used my birthday money from Grandma Mary and from Mom- and Dad-in-law to get the tickets for the six of us. The only problem was, I had to pay by check. But I got Laura to write the check for me, so it all worked out.

(And speaking of my hand, I went to the lab Wellness Fair last week, where they had many exhibits from health and wellness vendors, including health clubs, supermarkets, and an orthopedics clinic. I talked to the folks at the orthopedics clinic booth about my pesky hand, and with their encouragement called their office later in the day and scheduled an appointment for Wednesday. One ridiculous thing is that they sent me a bunch of forms to fill out, but since my personal scribe (a.k.a. Jeff) is now here, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. I will let you know how it goes. But I digress...)

After the train ride, which was lovely by the way, we had a picnic near the Clinch River and then went to the UT arboretum for a while. It was a fairly warm day and the leaves were just beginning to turn. After spending some time at the arboretum, we went and rested up a bit before dinner. Laura and I looked in the phone book to figure out where to go to dinner. We saw a place that looked good in Jackson Square (the "historic" downtown area of Oak Ridge), but when we got there it wasn't open. We saw another nearby restaurant but it was more expensive than we wanted. Then we walked over to "Big Ed's Pizza," a local pizza joint that I plan to try at some point, but the line was prohibitively long. Finally we just went to a Chinese buffet that Jeff and I had gone to the night he arrived here. One of the dishes was labelled "Cheese Spanish," but despite its name was not noticeably Latin. Actually, it was spinach with cheese. There must be a linguistic term for that sort of misinterpretation of words.

After dinner, we returned to our apartment and had birthday fudge and opened birthday presents. I guess it is now official that I am thirty years old. I had been procrastinating about turning thirty, since I really hadn't had much of a birthday yet. But now it's official.

On Sunday we went to brunch at Shoney's before scattering our own ways. Laura and Anne went on to Nashville to visit Vanderbilt University, while Dad and Marvis headed back home to Lexington. I think it was a very good visit and I am glad that they all got a chance to come here. It was nice to be among the first to meet Anne (Rach: nya-nya pthbbbt!), who seemed very nice and I could see why Laura would like her so much.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Who Knew I Had So Many Needs?

Okay, my sisters are doing this, so I should too. Even though if they were jumping off a bridge, I wouldn't do it too. But this is kind of funny, instead of dangerous, so I guess it's okay.

The idea is, type "<your first name> needs" into Google, and see what comes up. Since I am extra special, I have both my first name (Rebecca) and my nickname (Becca) to look at.

Here are some of my needs:
Rebecca needs enlightenment! (true, dat)
Rebecca needs support around her educational goals (well, not so much; I'm all learned up!)
Rebecca needs a very specific kind of learning environment (computer, paper, pencil)
Rebecca needs her food to be soft, or cut into small pieces, so that it is easy to chew (uhhh.... no)
Rebecca needs just one good, meaty, dramatic role, and the chances of her skyrocketing into fame will increase tenfold. (yeah, Hollywood! C'mon, I'm waiting for that role!)
Rebecca needs to make up her mind quickly (ME, decide something fast? Ain't happening!)
Rebecca needs to learn how to be a mother, and Emily needs to learn how to be a
(because I already know how to be a superhero!)
Rebecca needs to get out and find a boyfriend

Funny they should mention that, because the first hit for my informal side is:
Becca needs a boyfriend (hmm, I'm not so sure about that!)
Becca needs advice now! (should I get that boyfriend?)
Becca needs an all-around stallion to do her best (is that a horse or does that refer to the boyfriend?)
Becca needs a little more practice. (well, that's true!)
Becca needs friends, especially as she doesn't go to school. (that is so true it's creepy!)
Becca needs a nap now, no scratch that becca needs some fucking sleep, can't take all this hours at work. (It's like they know me!)
Becca needs a discount card for therapy sessions (tell me about it; actually I had one: it's called a student ID!)
Once established, Becca needs minimal -- if any -- maintenance (just an oil change every 3000 miles!) [Actually, Becca is a new type of ornamental grass!]


Words cannot describe the joy that I am feeling right now. My beloved husband is on his way to Tennessee!

He left Urbana in the early afternoon, and should be arriving at his parents’ very soon. He’s going to stay there overnight, and then he will drive here the next day. I am very excited!

In preparation for his arrival, I’ve bought some of his comfort foods: milk, Ovaltine, oatmeal, diet Coke with lime….

I have missed him so much. It’s been hard to be here without him. He makes life a lot more fun.

Distinguished Visitor

Yesterday my former advisor, Mike, came to the lab as a distinguished visitor. He gave a seminar at 1:00. I was there, front row center. It was a good thing, too. At the beginning of his talk, he explained his long association with the lab, having been a staff member for many years and now his former student has begun working here. In the middle of the seminar, he told a joke that nobody but me got, at which point he said, "That was supposed to be a joke, but nobody but Rebecca laughed. You can tell that she was my student." That crack then got a good laugh, and he went on with the seminar.

Mike is a very entertaining speaker. Aside from that one joke that nobody but me seemed to notice, he has a good sense of the audience and keeps it lively, although not so lively that he's not taken seriously. His slides were peppered with visualizations of rockets and other interesting graphics, which also keep people from sleeping.

After his day of visits was over, I got a chance to talk to him alone for about a half hour. We had a very enjoyable talk, some about work but mostly about Oak Ridge and how it had changed since he worked here. In fact, his first joke at the seminar was that he used to park his car about where he was standing (in a beautiful new building). He also told me where he and his wife used to live in town, and that they had donated a piano to the Oak Ridge Children's Museum, so I told him that if I ever went there, I would look for the piano.

He is a really nice man and I miss him a lot. He was a good advisor and always very supportive. He has like three different jobs, which means he's really busy, but he always made time for his students. I think he's quite proud of me and that makes me feel really good.

If my abstract gets accepted, I imagine that I will see him in February at the conference in San Francisco. I could see him again sometime this semester, too, if I successfully persuade the right people to sponsor an FE! in Illinois.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Adventures in Automobiles

Upon my return to Tennessee, I knew that I would need a rental car, so I reserved a mid-size car over the internet on Saturday night. When I arrived on Sunday afternoon, it turned out that they had no mid-size cars, so instead they gave me a Lincoln Town Car with all the bells and whistles. (The woman who gave me the key told me I was going to love it because it had “all the bling-bling.”)

I put my luggage in the rental car and then I got the important items out of Gundar before calling AAA. As it turned out, the guy who drives the only tow truck that can get into the airport parking garage does not work on Sundays, so they can’t tow my car until tomorrow. The AAA towing guy came anyhow, and collected from me the key to Gundar, the parking ticket, and money to pay for the parking. In the morning, they will tow him to the dealer. I’m to call the dealer first thing in the morning to let them know he’s coming.

I suspect that Gundar’s ailment is a broken fuel pump, but of course I don’t really know. I’m thinking that if I’m right, the fuel pump is a moderately priced part but the labor will be costly because it is buried deep inside, at least if a 1990 model is anything like a 1982 model. Ingrid the 1982 Volvo always had fuel pump issues and it took a lot of labor just to get to the pump.

After getting all the necessary items to the AAA guy, I hopped into the Lincoln. That is one fancy car! I felt a bit out of place in my jeans and software company t-shirt. I sat down on the leather seat and inserted the key into the ignition. To my surprise, the seat moved forward! I don’t know if it figured out how tall I am or if it just happened to be set that way, but it moved to just about the perfect position for me. (It moved back again when I turned off the car and removed the key.)

It was a very smooth and luxurious ride back to my apartment. Gundar vibrates at a certain frequency when you’re going 40 mph, and another frequency when you’re going 70, so you can kind of tell when you’re speeding up or slowing down. But this brand new Lincoln drives so smoothly that you start out at 40 and the next thing you know you look down and the odometer reads 70. So you have to be extra careful to keep an eye on your speed.

It has a nice stereo, a sunroof, a quartz clock in the dashboard, heated or cooled seats, temperature climate control, heated side mirrors, a hood ornament, wood paneling, a wooden inlayed steering wheel, and power everything, including the trunk, which when you shut it kind of sucks itself closed.

It’s a really big car, too. I don’t even want to think about the gas mileage! A nice feature it has is some sort of detector in the rear that beeps at you when you get too close to something when you’re backing up. I tried to park at the apartments but I did a poor job of parking, and backed up to straighten out. I got too close to the curb behind me for its liking, so it beeped at me.

It will be interesting to drive the car to work tomorrow. It also has a compass, which has been interesting to glance at occasionally, to cross-check my internal bearings. I am correct some of the time, and very close most of the time. Not bad for a kid who used to think that whichever direction you were facing was north.

Adventures in Urbana

The recruiting went well. I had a great time seeing friends walk by and schilling to strangers about the wonders of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We gave out a lot of brochures, pens, sticky notes, and magnets, and we talked to a lot of students. We were primarily recruiting for student internships, although if anyone was interested in a job we informed them about that too.

I saw a few of my former students from my TA-ing days too. One student, who got a D in my class, now works for Microsoft. (It figures.) Another one, whom I actually liked and who did really well in the class, was also seduced by the dark side.

I went out to lunch with my (former) classmates and that was a lot of fun. Then in the afternoon, after the job fair was over, I saw my (former) advisor and went to my former office and chatted with the current inhabitants. In the evening, Jeff and I went out to dinner and to see the movie Serenity.

On Saturday, I saw the house in all its emptiness. Jeff is almost done fixing it up and he will come here sometime this week. And I saw Glen and Barb and the kids. It was good to see them.

It was kind of strange going back to Urbana so soon after leaving it. I guess it really underscored to me the fact that I have no home at the moment. I think of Urbana as home, but seeing my bare house, and my now-former school/workplace, staying at a hotel, and being a guest at Barb and Glen’s, drove home the fact that I no longer live there. It is hard to think of Oak Ridge as home right now, because it is unfamiliar still. At the moment, I’m living in corporate housing, and the only things I have that are my own are my clothes and toiletries. I feel ungrounded and that makes me insecure and unhappy.

I remember when I moved to Urbana seven years ago that I felt the exact same way. It did not feel like home for quite a while. What really made a difference was buying our house, which made it feel like we were members of the community, we lived in a house that we had chosen, and it was ours. I think that when we take possession of our new house and all our stuff is moved in, Oak Ridge will start to feel more like home. I’ll be able to let go of Urbana. I’ll still miss a lot of things about it, but I’ll no longer feel homesick.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Adventures in Travel

As you know from my previous entry, I talked to my boss’s boss’s boss last week, and told him that I could help recruit people from the University of Illinois. Imagine my surprise when on Monday morning I found a message in my inbox asking me to go to the ACM Reflections/Projections job fair at UIUC! I was happy to do it, provided of course that I could get permission from my boss. He was happy to let me go, once he found out that he wouldn’t have to pay for the trip!

I was really excited because it would give me a chance to go back to Urbana and actually see my better half, whom I haven’t seen for nearly a month. And it would allow me to see my friends too, and surprise my former advisor by showing up at his office.

I made my flight plans but it took until the day I was to leave to finalize the reservation. I was a little on edge about that. I left work about quarter to five to drive to the airport for my flight leaving at 6:49 p.m. And then, because my life was still not exciting enough, Gundar the 1990 Volvo decided to break down. Luckily, he picked a pretty good place to do that. I was driving into the parking lot at the airport when the engine suddenly cut out. Thanks to gravity the natural accelerator, I was able to limp into the parking lot and make it almost all the way to a parking spot. But then gravity the natural brake took over, and I stopped in the aisle. I called AAA and explained the situation. They helped me by pushing him into a parking spot, but when I get back to the airport I will need to call them again and have them tow him somewhere. But, I am of the opinion that if you have to break down, break down at an airport. After all, there are a hundred rental cars right there, waiting for you. When I get back to Tennessee, I will rent a car, and then I will probably shell out the big bucks to have Gundar towed to the dealer. I’m sure they will be delighted to get their hands on even more of my hard-earned money.

As for what’s wrong with him exactly, that is still a mystery. The oil level was fine; a little low maybe, but not completely out. The battery was still working; when he went out the radio was still blaring. You can hear the starter go, but nothing happens. I noticed this morning that he seemed to be a little hard to start, but I’d think that wouldn’t have much to do with just going out like that. This is an enigma to me, but eventually the answer will be found. I’m just relieved that it isn’t anything like the engine is frozen up because he ran out of oil or some other very preventable problem.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Saturday Adventures

Yesterday I slept in until almost 9:00 a.m. This is unheard of in my world. I always wake up at 7:00 a.m., come hell or high water. I think the biggest factor was that I was absolutely exhausted, but a very important secondary factor is the fact that my bedroom has no windows. Close the door, and it's the dead of night in there.

Also, something interesting is that the sun doesn't rise here until about 7:30 a.m. The nice thing is that it sets at about 7 or 7:30 p.m. But after seven years in Illinois, I've grown accustomed to early morning sun, so this seems strange. Somehow it never really sunk in that the sun rose so much earlier there. I only noticed that it set so early there, instead of paying attention to when it rose. The late rising time of the sun also makes it more difficult to wake up at 7:00 a.m.

Also yesterday I went to Food Lion. Now I have been to all the major grocery stores in town: Wal-Mart, Food City, Kroger, and Food Lion. I didn't like Food Lion very much. I'd say the partial ordering of the grocery stores goes as follows: Wal-Mart = Kroger >= Food City >> Food Lion. When we move into our new house, we will be within a mile of Food City, so that's probably where I would shop the most, because it was pretty cheap. Kroger and Wal-Mart had a better selection, though, so I'd probably want to head over to one of them at least every so often. And they are about the same distance from our new house: they're across Illinois Avenue from each other. Food Lion is the farthest away and I think that I'm not going to be losing any sleep over that.

Also yesterday I watched the movie Love Me Tender on TV. It's a movie in which Elvis stars as the youngest of four brothers. The three older brothers fought in the Civil War while he stayed home and watched the farm. The oldest brother had a sweetheart whom he planned to marry when he got home, but at home they had received reports that he was dead, so the sweetheart actually married Elvis. So the oldest brother came home to face the fact that his sweetheart was married to his brother. Because he was such a tough guy, he swallowed all his feelings about the situation and acted like everything was fine. He told Elvis that he had never actually liked the woman that much. And he told his brothers to hide the fact that he had come home with a fancy suit that he was going to wear at their wedding. Lots of lies and cover-ups.

I was horrified by the dysfunction of that approach. Did he really think he had to hide his anger and grief? Who wouldn't be upset about something like that? Furthermore, did he really think that he could hide it? I guess that was the ideal male of the time: able to completely control his feelings at all times. It's sad that people growing up in that era had such rigid roles to fill.

If that movie had been written today, here's how the plot would have gone: oldest brother comes home, sees that his sweetheart is married to his brother, and pitches a fit. The woman reveals that she's always loved the oldest brother and only the oldest brother, and then they run off to California to start a new life together, but not before we get a chance to see some racy sex scenes. Either that, or they decide to revive the tradition of polyandry, and there's a gratuitous three-way scene. Or, the woman and the oldest brother have an illicit affair in the woods. Or, maybe, the woman chooses duty over love and the oldest brother runs off to California by himself.

The point is, everybody expresses how they feel, and then they figure out how to go from there. In the long term, it's not going to hurt Elvis to know that the oldest brother was disappointed and had planned on marrying the woman. Sure, it's going to hurt right when it's said, but did he not remember how close his brother and the woman were before the war? Ultimately, he'll understand that what his brother is feeling is perfectly understandable. What happens after that can be decided collaboratively. Why hide it when the truth is inevitably going to come out?